Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 13.djvu/408

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THE POPULAR SCIENCE MONTHLY.

be entertained by the historical investigator who has constantly before his eyes the vicissitudes of political affairs. But in his ἕσσεται ἧμαρ the great rhetorician falls into the same error as he falls into immediately afterward in holding that the foundation of natural theology is to-day just what it was in earlier times; that, in philosophizing about the origin of things, a thinker at the present day is not more favorably situated than Thales and Simonides; and that, as concerns the question, what becomes of man after death, a highly-educated European, left to his unassisted reason—in other words, unaided by revelation—is as little likely to be in the right as is a Blackfoot Indian. In both cases Macaulay overlooks a fact alien to him as a writer of political history, and, as it would appear, particularly so to his special genius—namely, the changes wrought, and daily being brought about with ever-increasing rapidity, in the condition of the human race by natural science. Modern humanity is different from mediæval and ancient humanity; the condition, the views, and the ideas of our race, in ancient and in modern times are no longer comparable inter se, thanks to the new elements introduced by natural science. Our science and civilization securely rest on the basis of induction and the useful arts; ancient science and civilization were built upon the shaky foundation of speculation and æsthetics.

 

VII.—The Dangers which threaten Modern Civilization.

What now can check modern civilization? What lightnings can ever shatter this tower of Babel? It makes one dizzy to think of what mankind is destined to be a hundred, a thousand, ten thousand, a hundred thousand or more years hence. What is there to which it may not attain? As it nowadays, mole-like, works its way through mountain-chains and under the ocean, why may it not at some future time imitate the flight of the bird? And, as it has solved the enigmas of mechanics, why should it not solve also the enigmas of mind?

Alas! it is decreed that trees shall not reach the sky. It is more than doubtful that man will ever fly; but the time never will come when he can tell how matter thinks. It is easier for us to reconcile ourselves to these limitations than to that everlasting age of ice which science remorselessly points out to us as the last scene in the drama of human affairs. Thus curiously enough it happens that, whereas natural science had seemed to promise to civilization a perpetual duration by insuring it against the inroads of barbarism, it again makes the assurance void and robs us of our hopes of a stable habitation on the earth. The day will come when man no longer can say, "Lo! Homer's sun sends down his beams even on us;"[1] a day when the earth, over and over ice-clad, will travel sluggishly around the sun, whose fires will then burn only with a ruddy glow; a day when, just as in the begin-

  1. "Und die Sonne Homer's, siehe, sie lächelt auch uns"—concluding pentameter of Schiller's "Spaziergang."